I have been so sheltered. I grew up in a middle-class family with all we needed and much of what we wanted. I’ve served, most of my adult life, the same type of people. I am seldom confronted by poverty, and even when that happens, it is by a few blind or lame begging on busy city sidewalks. I’ve often wondered how people like me can really help the profoundly poor of many third world or developing countries. For some of my PW sisters, dealing with poverty is an everyday issue; it may even be the very fabric of your service. I commend you!
In this issue of Peter’s Wife, I am sharing a newsletter from Tammy, one of our PW family of readers. She shares her experiences in helping one poor boy. As you read it, remember to ask God to help you see people as he sees them. Ask Him to make you alert to the individual, not just involved in the big projects. And maybe all of us can ask the Father to show us one life we can touch with his love, whoever it is, wherever it is.
There is a well-known story of a man and wife who went to the interior of Congo to reach people for the cause that counts. They could not penetrate the tribe they were targeting. The only person who showed any openness was a little boy. While there, the wife died, leaving the husband with a baby daughter. Dejected, embittered, full of grief, he fled the country, leaving his baby daughter with another couple to raise. Then he disappeared.
Years later, as a married adult woman, that little girl and her husband attended a conference in London. As they walked in they heard a man from Congo describing the great growth of the Message in that place. The woman approached him and asked if perhaps he might have known her father. “Know him? He shared the Good News with me when I was a 10 year old boy.”
One little boy. One great beginning for the Message. And ladies, even if the one life we touch never becomes as influential as that little boy, that one life still matters to the Master.
This past year, a small boy began coming to our gate asking for food. We often have people come asking for money or food, but seldom one so young. We didn’t want to turn this obviously hungry child away empty-handed, but at the same time, we wanted to avoid turning him into a beggar at such a young age. I gave him some fruit, was rewarded by a huge grin, and thus began my relationship with Jondy. Something about Jondy tugged at my heartstrings. I guessed he was about 7 years old, only to later discover he was almost 10. When I came home with a load of groceries, he was eager to help me carry them upstairs into the house. When I asked about his family, he told me his father sells balut (fertilized duck eggs, a delicacy here) on the streets and that his parents had a falling out resulting in his mother leaving and a new “step-mother” (divorce is not legal in this largely Roman Catholic country) entering the family with 3 young children of her own. This made Jondy the oldest of 8 children in his family.
Wondering if there was something more helpful I could do for Jondy and his family, I put out a plea to fellow PWs for guidance on how to help this family without creating a dependent relationship. My plea was heard by community development teacher and practitioner Jeri, a lady with a very big heart and years of experience with the poor. Among other outreaches, Jeri and her adult children run a children’s home and a birthing center in our area.
Yet at the same time, I was in a quandary. As poor as these people are, a lesson I’ve learned from my experiences here is that handouts do not solve problems. As I talked this over with Jeri, she recommended the book When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . . and Ourselves, by Biran Fikkert. She also offered to loan me Joy, one of the social workers who works with her, to assess the family’s needs and resources. She wisely suggested entering the community one step at a time, praying for direction and being careful not to set up expectations we cannot meet.
I took Joy with me to visit Jondy’s family, and in time we met his father, Joseph (and one of his brothers named Hesus, who was born on Christmas Day). We discovered that although Jondy and one of his younger brothers had gone to school up until two years ago, they had not been back since, because they couldn’t afford the transportation, uniform fees, and lunch money. Furthermore, most children in the community (about 25 families) work to support their families, either doing chores like carrying water from the nearby stream or going house to house collecting recyclables. Yet when Joy asked Jondy what he wants to do when he grows up, he said he’d like to be an engineer. Wow.
It has not been easy trying to figure out ways to help Jondy’s family and community. Joy is in the process of helping Joseph apply for a birth certificate so he can get important papers like a police clearance and social security card, to increase his employment potential and his dignity. Jeri’s midwives from the birthing center came to talk with the women in the community about family planning. They asked a lot of great questions and the midwives were able to dispel some of their superstitions and fears. It gave us a chance to get to know them in an informal setting. We had a great time chatting together, with kids, dogs, and chickens hanging around.
We discovered that these people come from rural areas where they were mostly farmers (like many “informal settlers” here). So we are hoping to help them find ways to use their agricultural skills to better sustain themselves. There’s a PW returning from the U.S. soon who has interest in helping out with this. I was so excited to hear this; it might just be an answer to prayer.
Jondy still comes to my gate occasionally, but now he comes as my friend. I usually give him some fruit and ask about his family. And I pray.
So, along with Tammy, whether we have a family like Jondy’s to help or not, we can pray. If we cannot help directly, let’s keep our hearts and eyes open for opportunities to help and encourage those working directly with the poor.
I’m sure many of you have found other ways to help. We would be happy to hear from you too.